How to Compare Online Colleges

Not all online colleges are created equally. It is a relatively new industry and the quality can vary a great deal from school to school. Even if an online program is good, how can you tell? Most schools haven’t been around long enough to establish a solid reputation, let alone gain the credibility of more historic institutions of higher education. Knowing what to look for and how to evaluate what you see can be challenging.

To compare online colleges you need some basic criteria to start with. Depending on your circumstances, some of these may be more or less relevant to you. First ask yourself what you’re looking for in your college experience, then learn as much as you can about each school you’re investigating. Go beyond the online research. Get in touch with faculty and admissions counselors, as well as current students and alumni.


This is always the first place to start. If a school isn’t properly accredited, that should be a big warning sign. You’re going to have problems transferring credits to other colleges and universities, as well as having your degree recognized by future employers.

Verify that any online school is approved by a legitimate accrediting organization. You can do some additional vetting and double check that the accrediting agency is endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education. You will also usually be safe if the school is accredited by the Distance Education and Training Council, or DETC.

Your best bet is a school that is accredited by a regional association. If you’re comparing two different online colleges and one has regional accreditation, a degree from that school will be much more valuable.

Schedules and Requirements

Part of the appeal of online education is the flexibility of the schedule and the variety of means with which class is delivered. Some programs are entirely online, while others are hybrids with a requirement of some physical attendance in classrooms. Some allow students to work at their own pace, while others have more structure and consistent deadlines. Many online courses include a schedule of exams and live virtual lectures, some of which are just as interactive as physical classrooms.

If you’re looking at a school with hybrid classes, be certain that you can meet the attendance requirements. How far away is the school from where you live? Even if class is only once a week, you need to make sure you can attend. Also look at the exam schedule. Are exams given online or do you need to show up at a physical classroom or testing center?

Also find out as much as you can about the quality of the degree programs being offered. If you know you want to study computer programming, check out the classes that make up that major. Do they make sense for an education in computer programming? Are they classes that would interest you, maybe even inspire you?

Because these important factors can vary so widely from program to program, make sure you understand the schedule and requirements and whether they fit with you. This will help you narrow your list of prospective schools.


Just as the quality of online colleges can vary, so do admissions practices. Some schools only require you to sign up, start paying tuition, and you’re ready to go. Others have a more lengthy application process, but usually not as intensive as traditional colleges.

You can’t judge a book by its cover, but in many cases, a stringent application process means the school has competitive admissions or higher academic standards. Don’t just assume this! You still want to look deeper into the school’s programs, as stated above. The important thing is to make sure you understand the application process and know whether or not you can fulfill it.

Support Services

Some online programs are completely independent and hands-off, but most resemble traditional classes to some extent. You will have lectures to listen to, texts to read and papers to write. What if you have questions or need extra help?

See if the instructors offer virtual office hours or other means of contact—at the very least, an email address. Also find out if the school offers tutoring or allows student study groups. You may think you’re an independent student who can go it alone, but you’ll appreciate those support services when you need them.

Most online colleges will also provide you with means of contact beyond an email address. In order to handle administrative matters, including admissions and billing, you’ll want to have a phone number for the school’s administrative offices. If a school can’t provide this, you may have a hard time getting in contact in the future.


How To Choose An Online Degree Program

Before enrolling in an online college, take some time to determine whether it’s right for you. The following are aspects of online learning to consider prior to enrollment:

1. Accreditation: It’s inadvisable to enroll in an unaccredited program. Likewise, do not select a program until you have a clear understanding about the benefits of both regionally and nationally accredited programs. Students should enroll in a program that will enable them to reach their career goals.

2. Social Interaction: Students can benefit from interacting and working with their peers. The level of social interaction varies in each program. Students should determine the level of interaction they prefer with classmates before selecting a program.

3. Career Services: Many students benefit from effective career placement services. Since finding a job after graduation can be difficult, many graduates rely on the assistance of career services offered by their schools. Before selecting a program, take time to review the availability and type of career services offered to students enrolled in your respective program.

4. Online Track Record: Avoid the temptation to compare the online program you’re considering with the quality of the courses offered on the campus of the school administering it. It’s not uncommon for excellent colleges to offer average online programs. Conduct some research on the program you’re considering, and do not rely exclusively on the reputation of the institution administering it.

5. Graduates: Contact other people who’ve graduated from the program you’re considering and get their opinion on the program. Specifically ask them where they worked immediately following graduation to get an idea of the type of job you may find after graduating.

6. Look Inside Yourself: Before enrolling in an online program, take some time to evaluate yourself. In order to successfully complete an online program, you will have to be self-motivated and effectively manage your time. Likewise, evaluate your learning style to determine whether you would benefit from online education since many people learn better in traditional classrooms with other students.


Facts About Online Degrees

If you’re thinking of pursuing an online degree, there are some basic facts you should know first. Online colleges are more popular than ever, growing at a rate of almost 10% annually. There is a wide variety of quality programs out there, both from private and public institutions. There is also a diverse range of styles, schedules and methods of delivery.

In fact, there are now thousands of programs to choose from in the United States. The options can seem overwhelming, but if you break down your criteria it becomes easier to know what you’re looking for.

Below are some important facts about online degrees you should keep in mind.

Accredited Online Degrees are Legitimate

Online education used to have a stigma as being of lower quality than traditional college. But a lot has changed, and in a very short time. These days, online degrees are widely recognized by other institutions of higher education and almost all major employers.

But it must be from a school that is properly accredited. Other schools and employers will not recognize a degree from a non-accredited school. Even worse, claiming a fraudulent degree on your resume is a crime in most states.

Make sure your school is properly accredited, preferably by a regional association. Some schools are accredited by the Distance Education and Training Council. Degrees from these schools are recognized by more employers, but you may have trouble transferring credits to other colleges and universities.

If you’re still in doubt, go online and verify the accrediting association with the U.S. Department of Education. They publish a list of approved accreditation boards.

In 2008, Congress passed the College Opportunity and Affordability Act, which has helped to regulate the industry. If an online college accepts federal funds, it must verify the identity of all the students it has enrolled. This has cut down on the fraud that used to threaten the reputation of the online education industry.

Online Degrees are Effective

You might think that just because a course is delivered online it is easier or somehow less academically rigorous. The truth is, online programs follow the same guidelines and curriculum as traditional ones. Most students end up with comparable learning experiences.

A major study by the U.S. Department of Education in 2009 concluded, “On average, students in online learning conditions performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.”

Where online students run into trouble is with personal discipline and motivation. In general, an online course is going to offer you more freedom and less structure. Some students thrive in this environment, while others struggle to stay on top of the workload.

Regardless of what kind of student you are, there is most likely an online program out there that fits your needs.

Online Programs Come in All Shapes and Sizes

The range of options in online education is more diverse than in traditional college. Technology allows for classes to be delivered in an increasingly large number of mediums, including multi-media presentations. The real challenge is finding an online program that complements your strengths as a student.

You can take classes that are more hands-off, allowing you to work at your own pace. For some students, this is the ideal environment. Others quickly discover that they rely on the structure and discipline of an organized class. If this sounds like you, look for an online program that has regular deadlines and a consistent schedule.

Are you a visual learner, meaning you absorb information better through images? If so, look for online programs that cater to this style, using more text- and graphic-based techniques. Maybe you are more of an auditory learner, who can listen to a lecture online or through a subscribed podcast. Either way, there are thousands of good choices for either type of student.

Many people think that online colleges only offer low-level degrees, such as associate’s degrees or professional certificates. But these days you can enroll online and earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees as well as PhD’s.

Online education used to be the domain of small, private for-profit schools, but these days everyone is in the game. Most major universities, public and private, now offer extensive online programs that are compatible with their traditional degree programs.

Online Education is More Affordable

One of the driving forces behind the explosion in online education is affordability. Most online schools have lower tuition than comparable colleges and universities. You’re still paying good money to be trained by an experienced teacher in a specialized field, but you save in so many other areas.

You can earn your degree from home, eliminating extra housing and transportation costs. You will still need to buy textbooks and, in some cases, specialized software. But these costs should be considerably less than in traditional college. Instead, much of your texts will be delivered online and paper-free.

Financial Aid is Available

Many students mistakenly believe that financial aid is not an option in online education. Depending on the school you attend, you may qualify for student loans or even scholarships. Talk to admissions counselors to get an idea of what your school offers. As always, different schools will offer very different financial aid packages.

Not All Fields of Study Work Online

Some fields of study are more popular in online education, such as business, English and computer information technology. Other professions just don’t lend themselves very well to the online environment, such as music, auto mechanics and chemistry. These are fields of study where you simply need interaction that isn’t possible online. In the case of music, you need to get in a room with other musicians. With auto mechanics and chemistry, you need to see what’s under the hood of the car and the microscope, respectively.

As you search for online programs, keep this in mind. If you’re pursuing a more interactive program, your options may be limited or you may have to take hybrid courses, which require some physical attendance in classrooms. In some cases, online programs will simply not be available.


Earn a Doctorate Degree Online

You may be considering earning your doctorate degree online. Whether you want to become a university professor or advance to a leadership position in your career, going online for your doctorate can be a challenging, but rewarding experience.

Even with the flexibility of online education, pursuing your doctorate degree requires a significant investment of time and money. You must be certain that an online doctorate will help you achieve your goals.

You also need to be prepared for the high academic standards of a doctorate program. It is a challenging and demanding experience that will test your abilities as a student.

Below are some important things to consider as your approach your online doctorate degree.

What Should I Expect in an Online Doctoral Degree?

If you’re going to pursue your online doctorate degree, it means that you are ready to enter the elite academic level in your field. You will be required to conduct independent research and present an original idea or argument. This is your dissertation, also known as a thesis.

In a doctoral program, you’re not just learning what others have discovered. You actually have to contribute to the body of knowledge with your own work. This is the real challenge.

You will be required to defend your dissertation in front of a group of professors who will challenge and critique your argument. It is a rigorous process meant to illustrate that you have completely mastered a field of study.

Is an Online Doctorate Program Right for Me?

Just like any other online degree, earning your online doctorate degree requires students to be disciplined, organized and self-motivated. While studying online offers you some flexibility, you should be prepared to commit a significant amount of daily time to your doctoral work.

Online doctoral students must possess advanced reading, writing and communication skills, as well as the ability to master highly complex concepts. You also must be highly organized and self-motivated.

You want to be certain that an online doctorate degree will actually contribute to your career goals. There are many high-paying, private sector leadership positions that require a doctorate degree. But if you’re pursuing a career in academia, you may find that you don’t make much more money with a doctorate degree.

The bottom line is this: if you’re making the investment to earn an online doctoral degree, have a plan for how that will fit into your goals and aspirations in the future.

What Types of Doctorate Degrees Can I Earn Online?

Online education has its limitations. Some topics just don’t translate to the online environment. In some cases, you will be required to attend some classes on campus (more on that below), and other fields are simply impossible to teach online, like medical surgery.

Here are some of the more popular online doctorate degrees in the United States:

    • Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)
    • Doctor of Computer Science (DCS)
    • Doctor of Education (EdD)
    • Doctor of IT Management
    • Doctor of Public Administration (DS)
    • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

Verify the Accreditation of an Online Doctoral Program

If you’ve determined that you want to get your online doctoral degree, the next step is finding the right school. Before spending time investigating a school, first verify that it is properly accredited. Without this your online doctoral degree will be worthless.

Many students fall prey to diploma mills, which are not accredited and do not meet academic standards. Listing a fraudulent degree from such a school on your resume is illegal in most states. Furthermore, universities and employers will not recognize it and your reputation in your field will suffer.

The safest bet is a school that is accredited by a regional association. If you’re studying for a lower level degree, such as an associate’s degree, employers will usually recognize degrees with accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC). But the high academic standards of a doctoral program mean that it better be accredited by a regional association.

Residency Requirements for an Online Doctorate Degree

As you may have gathered by now, studying for your online doctorate degree is much more rigorous than lower level degrees. Because of this, doctoral programs are usually not completely online. With most schools, you will have to spend some amount of time in a physical classroom or lab. This is known as the residency requirement.

This is important because it means you have to live somewhat close to the school you’re enrolling in. Be absolutely certain that you can meet this requirement, as it is a critical part of your online doctorate degree.

Residency requirements vary for different online doctorate programs. If a program has a limited residency, it means you’ll have to attend occasional lectures, seminars or labs. These are usually conducted on weekends, or in the case of weeklong sessions, during the summer.

Many online doctorate degrees have substantial residency requirements. In this scenario, you are required to attend full-semester classes. With most programs, this will add up to approximately one full year of classroom attendance. If this is the case, then you obviously need to live near your school and have a schedule that permits regular class attendance.

How to Gauge the Quality of an Online Doctorate Degree

Aside from the factors listed above, how can you tell if an online doctorate program is really good? Start with the requirements for the degree. Are the requisite classes relevant to what you want to do? Is the workload schedule rigid or flexible? Do classes involve multi-media or just written text?

It also helps to compare all of these factors from program to program, school to school. This will help give you a context from which to judge a prospective online doctorate degree.

Next look and see what is offered outside of the classroom. What kind of support does the faculty offer? Are normal office hours and mentorship opportunities available? Extra support like this can be crucial in a challenging online doctorate program.

How to Cover the Cost of an Online Doctorate Degree

Going after your online doctorate degree can be an expensive endeavor. The total cost for a two-year master’s degree is usually in the tens of thousands of dollars, and can vary widely from school to school.

Online students face one major restriction: you’re not eligible for paid teaching fellowships. Most traditional doctorate programs involve some teaching, for which doctoral students are paid. This is done to offset your tuition.

But in online education, this opportunity isn’t available. This makes the cost of tuition considerably higher. But you may qualify for other financial aid, including student loans and scholarships. Check with an admissions counselor to see if financial aid packages are available through your program.

If a doctoral degree will advance your career, your employer might have a vested interest in paying for some or all of your tuition. Talk to human resources or your supervisor about education finance programs.

An online MBA degree takes a lot of work, a lot of time, and several thousand dollars. But if you have a plan and you find a good online program that fits your needs, you will find success.


Earn an Online Master’s Degree

As distance education explodes in popularity, online master’s degrees are becoming more and more common. In addition to exclusively online private colleges, most traditional universities are now offering online master’s programs.

If you’re considering a master’s degree but have scheduling limitations—perhaps a career or a family—you might want to look into an online master’s degree. It can be a great way to continue your education or take your career to the next level.

Below you will find some crucial facts about online master’s degrees and important questions you should ask yourself. Should you pursue your masters online or through traditional means? How can you find a respected online program that will be just as valuable on your resume as a traditional one? And can you secure financial aid or other funding for your master’s education?

Why do I Want to Earn my Online Master’s Degree?

If you’re going to pursue an online master’s degree, it’s probably for a specific reason. You may have just earned your bachelors and want to continue your education while working. Or you may be well into your career and want to increase your qualifications and earnings potential.

In either case, it’s important to know why you want to get your online masters degree. Will it actually help you reach your goal, or can you advance in your career with more education?

In some fields, you absolutely need a master’s degree in order to advance to a certain level. It often means you will be making more money as well. If this is the case, think of your online master’s degree as an investment in your career. You have to spend money to make money!

Is an Online Master’s Degree Right for Me?

Online education isn’t necessarily for everyone. You have to be a disciplined and self-motivated student who is capable of handling independent work. If you lack these traits, you may be more suited for a traditional master’s program with physical attendance and a more structured workload.

For an online master’s degree, you also need very strong reading and writing skills, as you will be asked to evaluate and respond to complicated texts. Your grades will be determined by these written assignments, as well as online discussion forums and exams. Verify That an Online Master’s Program is Accredited

In a relatively new industry like online education, there is a fair amount of fraud out there. Some schools claim to be legit, but are nothing more than “diploma mills.” If an online school isn’t properly accredited, your master’s degree won’t be worth much. Employers and other institutions of higher education won’t recognize it.

If you’re checking out an online master’s program, make sure the school is accredited by a regional board. This will ensure that the school is meeting the necessary academic standards. Some online colleges receive accreditation by the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC), a national board. This is usually accepted by employers, but you may have trouble transferring credits to other colleges and universities.

How to Spot Quality in an Online Master’s Program

Dig deeper and learn more about the quality of the education you will be receiving. If you already work in the field of study, ask your employer and colleagues about different schools. If you’re completing your bachelor’s degree, seek input from instructors and other students. Word-of-mouth is often the best way to gauge quality.

Look at some of the stats in an online master’s program. What is the graduation rate? You want to be in a program that has a good history of student success. What is the ratio of teachers to students? Even though much of your work will be independent, you still want individual attention from instructors.

Help Outside the Classroom

Does the school provide tutors and/or mentors? If you’re studying at the master’s level, this will likely be a critical part of your education. Tutors can help you break down a complicated assignment and see it in a new light. Mentors can add real-world experience to your education and help you build networking connections within your field of study.

Also find out if your online college offers academic and/or career counseling. Academic counselors can help you plan the path to your master’s degree, picking classes that are the best fit for you while fulfilling your major requirements.

Career counselors can help you land internships, jobs or promotions in your field. Some online colleges may even have strong ties to your industry and provide an alumni network, which can help immensely with career advancement.

Different Types of Online Master’s Degrees

A Master of Arts degree (MA) is one of the more common online master’s degrees. MA programs focus on the humanities, social sciences, fine arts or theology. MA programs typically take two years to complete, but may be longer if you are studying online at a slower pace. If you have advanced knowledge in a particular field of study, some colleges will award a degree based on proficiency testing.

A Master of Science degree (MS) is also very common. It focuses on physical and life sciences, business and technical fields. MS programs typically take two years and involve some amount of research and/or lab work. A student completing his or her MS degree is usually poised to enter the workforce, but some MS graduates go on to doctoral programs.

Aside from MA and MS degrees, some other online master’s degrees include Master of Education (MEd), Master of Fine Arts (MFA), Master of Health Administration (MHA) and Master of Business Administration (MBA), which is the most popular online master’s degree in the United States.

Not All Online Master’s Degrees are Completely Online

Because a master’s degree requires in-depth instruction in a complex field of study, many online programs require a certain amount of physical attendance in a classroom. This is known as a residency requirement.

If your online master’s degree has a residency requirement, make sure you live close enough and are able to fulfill it. Here is a breakdown of the different types of residency requirements.

No residency means that the online master’s degree can be earned completely online. All coursework will be conducted on the internet, with the exception of exams. In most programs, written exams are administered by a licensed proctor.

Limited Residency means that you’ll have to take part in seminars from time to time. These seminars are usually on weekends, nights or during the summer. In some programs, the seminars will last a week or two.

Substantial Residency means that you will have to attend regular semester classes at some point in your online master’s program. Certain classes simply don’t translate to the online environment. This may be due to the technical or hands-on nature of the work. Most online master’s degrees that have substantial residency require one or two semesters-worth of physical classroom attendance.

Paying for an Online Master’s Degree Program

Remember, an online master’s degree is an investment in your career. But it can be an expensive investment. With online education you can’t take advantage of student fellowships, which often subsidize tuition for a traditional master’s program.

But you may be eligible for other financial aid, including loans, grants and private scholarships. Do some online research and talk to admissions counselors to see what is available through your online college.

If you see your online master’s degree as a career investment, then perhaps your employer will as well. Many companies subsidize the education and training of its employees. The flexibility of online education has made this even more common. Be sure to talk to your employer about covering some or even all of the cost of your online master’s degree.


Earn an Online Bachelors Degree

Online education is a rapidly growing field. These days, students are logging on for more than just their general education requirements. More and more online students are earning their bachelor’s degree online.

As the industry has expanded and gained recognition, so has the quality of the programs being offered. Thousands of public and private institutions are now offering bachelors, masters and PhD’s online.

If you’ve found yourself considering an online bachelor’s degree, here are some basic criteria to help you make your decision.

Is an Online Bachelor’s Degree Right for Me?

There are two major demographics in online education: high school graduates and older career professionals. For high school graduates, getting your bachelor’s degree online may be the most efficient and affordable route to prepare you for graduate school or a career. If you’ve already entered the workforce, an online degree is a great way to expand on your qualifications and increase your earnings potential.

An online degree will be more affordable than traditional education. You will save money on tuition, housing, transportation, textbooks and…chances are, school memorabilia. As an online student, you will still be eligible for financial aid, including student loans and scholarships.

Many online courses follow a traditional structure and schedule, but some allow you to work at a more independent pace. If you’re anxious to enter grad school or start your career, you may be able to complete your online bachelors in less than four years. Or you may already have a career and/or family and need to work at a slower pace. Either way, there are many online programs out there with flexible schedules.

One important thing is to know what kind of student you are. Online students need to be self-motivated and disciplined. If you know that you need a more structured environment to thrive, look for online programs that have set class hours and steady deadlines.

What Type of Bachelor’s Degree Should I Study?

Whether you’re studying online or walking into a classroom, most colleges and universities offer three basic types of bachelor’s degrees: Bachelor of Science (BS), Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA).

Bachelor of Science degrees are geared toward scientific and technical fields of study. Most BS degrees require about 120 semester credits, most of which focus on the major. BS programs are generally designed to prepare students for employment, and most BS graduates immediately pursue careers in their field. Depending on the field of study, an online BS degree may require significant time in a physical classroom or lab.

Bachelor of Arts degrees cover subjects that are more academic in nature. Because they tend to involve more reading and writing, BA degrees are well-suited for the online environment. Most BA degrees also require about 120 semester credits, which are composed of major requirement and general education requirements, such as math, social sciences and foreign language.

Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees involve visual or performance art, such as painting, film, music or dance. A BFA degree is for someone who knows they want to pursue a career in their field of the arts. BFA program requirements are also about 120 semester credits. Most classes will be hands-on, requiring studio or lab time. This can make BFA degrees a little trickier in online education.

Make Sure the School is Accredited

You can learn a great deal studying for your online bachelor’s degree, but it won’t be worth much if the school isn’t properly accredited. If this is the case, other schools and employers may not recognize your online degree.

Go online to the Department of Education, where you will find a list of approved regional accrediting boards. This is the best way to ensure that your online school adheres to high academic standards.

Some online colleges are accredited by the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC), which is recognized by most employers, but you may have trouble transferring credits to four-year universities.

Quality of Academics

Okay, so you’ve checked out an online college and it is fully accredited by a regional association. That’s great, but you’ll still want to dig a little deeper and find out more about the quality of the education you will be receiving.

If you know what kind of online bachelor’s degree you’d like to pursue, start investigating it. Compare it to similar programs at other online colleges. Learn more about the faculty—their experience and qualifications.

Check how long the program has existed. Online education is still pretty new, so it’s a good sign if a program has been around for at least five or six years. That means it’s good enough to survive in a very competitive industry. It also gives you the opportunity to speak with graduates of the program and gain their perspective.

Also look at the class requirements for your particular bachelor’s degree. If you’re a career professional, you should be able to judge whether or not these classes are relevant to what you want to do. If you’re in high school, it’s a good idea to compare major requirements from school to school. This will help you judge which online bachelor’s program is right for you.

Academic Counseling

Just as in traditional college, if you’re studying bachelor’s degree online, you’re going to need the help of an academic counselor. Make sure the online college you’re investigating offers academic counseling. Not all of them do. Having one will make it much easier to navigate all the degree requirements and build an academic plan of attack that fulfills your needs.

Also find out if your online college provides career counseling. Especially if you are pursuing an online Bachelor of Science degree, a career counselor can be invaluable in helping you find internships and employment.

Testing for Credit

If you’re an experienced career professional, you may have valuable training in a particular field that translates to classroom knowledge. More and more online colleges are awarding college credit through proficiency testing.

Keep in mind that these exams are challenging, since they waive the requirement for a semester class. Even if you have real-world experience, you will need to make sure you understand the subject in an academic context. If you’re successful in this route, you can complete your online bachelor’s degree in much less than four years.

Using Credits From Multiple Schools

If you’ve taken online classes in the past, you may be able to combine your credits. Many online colleges are more liberal transferring credits, allowing you to bundle credits from multiple schools into one transcript.

You can also use a credit bank, which analyzes your educational history, test scores and career experience and combines them into a single report. This is especially valuable if you have multiple points of experience or training.

Online or Traditional?

Getting a bachelor’s degree online is becoming more and more popular, and as the industry expands, so will the opportunities for quality, affordability and academic success.

But be aware that online education is different from traditional college. Depending on what kind of student you are, one may suit you better than the other. It’s important that you research your options and choose your school carefully. Speak with as many different people as you can so you can make an informed decision. If you do that, you’ll find a school that’s right for you.


Earn an Online Associate’s Degree

Thousands of online colleges across the country offer associate’s degrees. Without the usual state residency requirements, students are free to choose from almost any online school that’s out there. This means you can probably find a good program that is right for you. But with so many options, finding it can be a challenge.

Below you’ll find some basic facts about online associate’s degrees and some tips to help you find the right school for you.

Associate’s Degree, Certificate or Community College?

Before you decide to pursue an online associate’s degree, do some research on jobs in that field. What are the typical requirements for employment? Some technical careers require that you have an associate’s degree. Others only need an associate certificate, which can be completed more quickly and affordably.

If your prospective career does require an associate’s degree, you can usually complete your studies in two years. Almost all employers and colleges recognize online associate’s degrees, as long as they are from a properly accredited school (more on that below).

Earning your associates online is also an efficient way to fulfill your general education requirements for a bachelor’s degree. If this is your plan, make sure your online course credits will be transferable to colleges and universities.

Another option is community college. If you’re an in-state resident, community college can be even more affordable. Almost all community colleges offer online classes, as well as night and weekend classes, but you will most likely have to attend some physical classes. For many students, this is the most efficient route to an associate’s degree.

Different Types of Associate’s Degrees

There are four basic types of associate’s degrees. Most of them require you to complete about 60 semester credits.

An Associate of Arts degree (AA) usually focuses on humanities and social sciences. Most AA students go on to study for a bachelor’s degree and credits are generally easy to transfer to other colleges and universities.

An Associate of Science degree (AS) focuses on physical sciences, life sciences and technical fields. AS graduates are generally ready to start a career, but some also pursue a bachelor’s degree, depending on their field of study.

An Associate in Applied Science degree (AAS) is made up of vocational training in a technical field of study. Students typically earn an AAS to fulfill requirements for a specific career and proceed directly to the workforce. Most four-year colleges and universities only accept AAS transfer credits on a limited basis.

An Associate in Occupational Studies degree (AOS) is similar to an AAS degree. It consists of vocational training that is very specific to a technical career. AOS programs are not typically transferrable to bachelor’s programs.

Make Sure Your Online College is Accredited

If you’re pursuing an online associate’s degree, you probably either want to go on to get your bachelors or begin your career immediately. In either case, your online degree won’t be worth much if the school isn’t properly accredited.

If an online degree isn’t accredited by a recognized board, it won’t be accepted by employers or other institutions of higher education. Before you look into an online college too much, make sure it is accredited by a regional association. If you’re uncertain, visit the website of the U.S. Department of Education. They provide a list of all the recognized accreditation boards.

Some online colleges are accredited by the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC). While most employers will be fine with this, you might run into trouble transferring credits to other colleges and universities.

Is Online Education Right for Me?

The truth is, online education isn’t for everyone. If you’re an independent learner who is motivated and self-disciplined, you’re a good candidate for online college. But others find that they miss the structure of a traditional class.

Most online courses are heavy on reading and writing. Instead of attending lectures, you may just be reading a text and responding to it. Is this format a good way for you to absorb information? If not, search for online programs that use audio/video lectures and multi-media content.

It is also important to know what comes after your online associate’s degree. Most students are earning their associates in order to enter a certain career. Know where you want to go and what credentials are required for jobs in that field before you choose your online associate’s program.

How do I Know I’m Choosing a Good School?

Online education hasn’t been around that long. Some online colleges provide a high-quality education, but they haven’t yet established a solid reputation like much older colleges and universities. How can you know if an online associate’s program is up to academic standards?

First, how long has the program existed? It can be hard to judge an academic program if it’s only been around a year or two. But after four or five years there will be plenty of data on the program that you can evaluate.

Find out more about the faculty. What education and experience do the instructors have? This can ultimately be the deciding factor in how well you do in a particular class.

Check out the graduation rates. You want to enroll in a program that has a good history of student success. Seek out graduates of the program and see how satisfied they were. You can also ask them their opinions of the faculty.

If you’ve gathered all this information but don’t know how to put it into context, compare this program to ones at other schools. Once you start comparing and contrasting, you’ll start to get a better idea of what looks good to you and what doesn’t.

Guidance Counseling

At some point you will need the help of an academic counselor. Make sure any online college provides this valuable service. They can help you find your best-fit classes that will fulfill your academic requirements. They are especially helpful if you plan to transfer credits to another college or university.

More and more online colleges are also providing career counseling. This can be invaluable in helping you find coveted internships and jobs. Before enrolling in a school, find out how they can help you plan your education and your career.


4 Hot Online Master’s Degrees

Earning your online master’s degree can be a valuable investment in your career. Many fields of employment require a master’s degree or more in order to advance. You will also qualify for higher paying jobs.

If you’re considering a Masters, studying online is a way to do it without interrupting your career. With some exceptions, online master’s programs tend to have more flexibility than traditional programs. If you’re an independent learner with a solid work ethic, an online master’s degree might be the best route for you.

Below are 4 of the most popular online master’s degrees in the United States. Part of their appeal is how they prepare students for advancement in vital and rapidly growing fields, such as business, education and information technology.

Master of Business Administration (MBA)

Master of Business Administration degrees are a perennial favorite in online education. Depending on the program, students can broaden their experience with some general business courses or focus on a specialized area. This can include management, marketing, accounting, finance, distribution, human resources and more.

An online MBA is popular with people from a wide variety of fields. Some continue in the same discipline as their bachelor’s degree, while others switch fields in order to expand their skill-set. If you want to do either without putting your career on hold, earning your MBA online might be the way to go.

Master of e-Commerce

The Master’s in e-Commerce prepares students for the world of online business. This degree hasn’t existed for very long, but it has exploded in popularity, as almost every business requires some kind of internet presence.

Students earning an online Master of e-Commerce degree will learn traditional principles of business and economics, as well ideas specific to the virtual business world, such as online marketing, global distribution, legal issues and internet security.

Master of Education (MEd)

Education is a field where you can only advance so far without a master’s degree. Even to become an instructor at the community college level, you will need to have your Master’s of Education.

For many teachers, earning their masters online is a way to transition to education administration. At almost every level of education, administrators need to have a master’s degree to qualify for most higher-paying jobs.

Typically you will be able to complete your online Master of Education degree in two years or less, unless you are working at a slower pace.

Master of Information Technology

If you earned your bachelor’s degree in computer science or mathematics, an online Master of Information Technology degree is a great way to expand your skill-set and qualify for a much higher salary.

Information technology is a competitive field, and to advance in your career you will likely want to specialize in something, or possess a valuable combination of skills. Many online Master of Information Technology programs include studies in software development, systems engineering, data management, mobile security and project management.

Most masters’ students in information technology have some education in a related field. But you might have real-world job experience too. If so, you may be able to fulfill some major requirements through proficiency testing. You may also qualify for advanced online programs. Check with college admissions to find out what options are available.

Regardless of which online master’s degree you decide to pursue, make sure you find a program that is challenging and fits with where you want to go in your career. If you do, you will likely find it to be a rewarding investment in your future.


Who Should Take Distance Learning Courses?

Motivated individuals with a good work ethic are ideal distance learning students. These individuals usually enroll in online programs because they do not have time to study on a campus. Distance learning programs are also ideal for people who want to control their school schedules. Even though students enrolled in distance learning programs can complete their studies at any time, classes must be completed during a semester. In other words, if a semester begins in August and ends in December, courses must be completed within this timeframe. Distance learning students must also take tests on specified dates. Individuals falling under the following criteria are perfect candidates for distance learning programs:

    • Individuals with numerous family or other responsibilities
    • Self-starters and motivated hard workers
    • Individuals able to work without supervision
    • People able to juggle multiple responsibilities
    • Individuals who can effectively evaluate their progress
    • People comfortable spending long hours working in front of a computer
    • Those who love learning and take initiative to find answers to questions
    • Individuals with at least 15 hours of spare time a week to devote to school work

The following factors must also be taken into consideration:

    • Do you understand how to operate and perform basic functions on a computer?
    • Can you upload new software when required?
    • Can you access e-mail and download necessary attachments?
    • Do you have Internet access readily available where you prefer to study?
    • Do you have time to visit campus to work in a computer lab if you do not have access to a computer at home?

If the answer to any of the previous questions is no, then it might be difficult for you to complete a distance learning program. If you lack basic computer skills and knowledge, courses are available to learn these skills and knowledge.


Choosing a Distance Learning Program

Distance learning is becoming one of the most popular ways to complete college, with enrollments rising rapidly each year. This is partly because more working professionals and non-traditional students with numerous family responsibilities are returning to school.

Since more students are enrolling in distance learning programs, those considering enrolling in one should be cautious when selecting a program. Not all programs offer high quality education. Many institutions are cashing in on this demand for distance learning by offering programs that are sub-par or non-accredited. Therefore, those looking for a distance learning program should conduct thorough research before selecting one. When selecting a program, take into account the following factors:

  • Accreditation. Accredited schools adhere to high education standards. Accreditations are administered by agencies responsible for reviewing and determining whether schools meet the necessary standards. The Distance Education and Training Council (DETC) is one such accreditation agency responsible for reviewing distance learning programs.

    One way to determine whether a distance learning program is accredited is by checking to see whether professional organizations associated with the field where most students find jobs after graduation recognize it as accredited. For example, students enrolling in legal secretary programs should check to see which ones are accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). Graduates of ABA accredited programs would be at advantage when looking for jobs after graduation.

  • Reputation. Graduates of distance learning programs with poor reputations can be at a disadvantage when seeking jobs following graduation. Do not rely entirely on a program’s website or brochures when determining whether it’s reputable. Consider the following ideas when determining whether a program has a good reputation:
      • Tour the campus of the college offering the program
      • Arrange to meet with program alumni to inquire about the program you’re considering
      • Contact the Better Business Bureau and inquire about any complaints filed against the school
      • Communicate with professionals in the field you’re interested in working in to inquire about reputable programs
      • Conduct Internet research and review books and magazines with information about specific programs
  • Academic Offerings. One of the main factors that must be considered when selecting a distance learning program is the quality of the instruction you’ll receive. Good programs contain many rigorous courses which provide students with a well-rounded education. To learn more about specific classes, speak with instructors, academic counselors, and department chairs. Be prepared with specific questions about course quality when communicating with faculty members. Likewise, ensure programs you’re considering offer a variety of courses related to the career field you plan to pursue. Employers usually seek employees with well-rounded educations. Students should also make sure programs offer courses which will improve writing, analytical, and organizational skills since job seekers with these skills are highly sought after in the workforce.

    It’s also advisable to inquire about whether specific schools have good internship placement programs. Experience gained during an internship can be very beneficial when seeking a job after graduation.

  • Instructional Technologies. Distance learning education is provided through numerous means. Students can watch recorded lectures on DVD’s, participate in teleconferencing, and watch instruction via the Internet. Before selecting a program, students should also inquire about available student support programs and hands-on instruction. It’s also recommended to test teaching technology prior to selecting a program to see if it’s compatible with individual learning preferences.
  • Teaching Staff. Good instructors serve as the cornerstone of any quality educational program. Students should know whether classes are taught live or pre-recorded prior to selecting a distance learning program. It’s also recommended to learn about individual teacher experience and qualifications prior to enrollment.
  • Career Services. An often overlooked, but very important component of any school is the existence of an effective career services program. This service plays an important role in placing students with employers following graduation. One statistic all students should ask about prior to enrolling at a particular school is the graduate employment rate. Also, students should inquire about available services, such as career counseling, resume preparation, etc.